Tuesday, August 16, 2011

IN THIS IS LOVE (A Meditational Thought)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” (1 John 4:7-21, NASB)

Though I am focusing on verse 10, and not planning to exegete the entire passage, the impression the surrounding verses create will prove helpful.

John, one who was personally close to the incarnate Son of God, reflects upon the significance of love. Three expressions of love surface; the love God has for human beings, the love human beings have for God and the love human beings have for one another. The words recorded in verse 10 can be read in a flat, monotonous manner, as we too often read Scripture, or with the reflective awe that was likely stirring in the author as he pondered, with great experiential background, the magnificence of God and His manifestation of love toward us.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” As we attempt to appreciate what John says, let’s consider that one emphasis in the passage concerns the reality that this love which God has shown toward us impacts those who receive it in such a way that it becomes the source of our perfecting the love that we express toward God and others. Having been created in the image of God, we are to reflect His character by using our finite abilities as He uses His infinite abilities. Love requires that we, possessing appropriate abilities, use the abilities we possess as they were intending to be used. It should be plain to see that if we suppose that the nature of sin involves the loss of all ability, we cannot express love at all. In fact, under such a scenario, it is actually impossible to sin as sin involves a wrong use of our abilities, not the lack of ability.

John marvels at the love of God because, though there is a natural tendency to be drawn toward and express love for that which is pure, beautiful, majestic and impressive, it is difficult to love those who are insulting, rebellious and selfish. God, having been grieved and hurt by the unfaithful idolatry of mankind (Ge.6:5-7, Eze.6:9 among others), has risen above personal animosity and pursued a path and plan of redemption at His own expense and suffering. Such a display of moral character in the face of such adversity is far more impressive than any love manifested toward one who is perfectly pure and appealing, from whom one believes they will gain much benefit.

Jesus understood this perspective as evidenced in His words are recorded in Matthew 5:43-48. Notice how He concludes His thought. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NASB)

The “perfection” spoken of is as stated above, using our limited, finite abilities (whatever capacity we possess in whatever form they exist) to live up to the light we possess (however bright or dim it might be). Relegating love to the nature of God, similar to His power, eternality, omnipresence, authority, etc. robs Him of the praise due for the glorious Self-government exercised toward the literally despicable race of man. It also, places this love in a realm that eliminates it from any possibility of our emulating such character.

God is our model, our inspiration and our help. Let us grow in our understanding, appreciation and love.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way. And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36, NASB)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

SHOULD WE ABANDON WILLIAM BLACKSTONE

Several foundational principles are expressed in both the Judeo-Christian worldview and Blackstone’s Commentaries. These principles, summarized below, reveal the extent to which American law has repudiated Blackstone.

A. There are different types of law in the universe. Blackstone’s classification of law into six types is foundational to the rest of his philosophy and is consistent with the Judeo-Christian system of law:

1. Law as the order of the universe. “Thus when the Supreme Being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, He impressed certain principles upon that matter, from which it can never depart, and without which it would cease to be. When he put the matter into motion, He established certain laws of motion, to which all movable bodies must conform . . . .”

2. Law as a rule of human action. “. . . the precepts by which man, the noblest of all sublunary beings, a creature endowed with both reason and free will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior.”

3. Law of nature. “These are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the Creator Himself in all His dispensations conforms; and which He has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions.”

4. Revealed law. “The doctrines . . . delivered [by an immediate and direct revelation] we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures . . . . Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.”

5. Law of nations. [A]s it is impossible for the whole race of mankind to be united in one great society, they must necessarily divide into many . . . . [the regulation of their interaction] is the law of nations . . . [it] depends entirely upon the rules of natural law, or upon mutual compacts, treaties, leagues, and agreements . . . .”

6. Municipal law. “[This is] a rule of civil conduct, prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong. But no human authority can act without limits.”

B. God is the Creator of the universe, man, the very concept of law, and several universal laws; and his original Creation was ex nihilo (“out of nothing”). Blackstone was certainly not an evolutionist! But the evolutionistic fervor of later legal scholars was a major force in America’s abandonment of Judeo-Christian/Blackstonian jurisprudence in the Twentieth Century.

C. God has built into the universe fundamental laws that are fixed, immutable, and must be obeyed.

D. Man is a dependent creature who is not to disobey God’s fixed laws but is given free will and reason to discover and choose his actions within the limits of God’s laws.

E. Man’s reason is corrupt and cannot, by itself, discover and apply God’s law.

F. God is not only the Creator, but a Being of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness.

G. God created man and His fundamental laws in such a way that man can be happy only when he is obeying God’s law.

H. Revealed law, natural law, and human law exist in a clear and inseparable relationship to one another.

I. The purpose of human law is to “command what is right, prohibiting what is wrong.”

J. Human law is not to violate God’s law, but is to decide what are right and wrong in regard to “things in themselves indifferent” (i.e., actions that are not intrinsically right or wrong but are declared so by human lawmakers).

K. Human law’s most effectual tool for producing right conduct and preventing wrong conduct is sanctions – punishment.

L. At the time of Creation, God gave man dominion over all the earth, but changes in society ultimately necessitated the emergence of individual property ownership.

M. There are three primary personal rights:

- Personal security. The right …consists in a person’s legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of his life, his limbs, his body, his health, and his reputation.

- Personal liberty. This personal liberty consists in the power of locomotion, of changing situation, or removing one’s person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct; without imprisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law.

- Right of private property: law of the land. [This right] consists in the free use, enjoyment, and disposal [by man] of all his acquisitions, without any control or diminution, save only by the laws of the land.

N. Human judges are empowered to interpret the will of the legislature by certain distinct standards, including:

- The usual meaning of words;

- Context of the words being interpreted;

- Subject matter of the law;

- Effect of the interpretation—absurd meanings must be avoided;

- The reason for the law—why it was promulgated

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

EDIFICATION

A statement made by the Apostle Paul in a wonderful passage written to the Ephesians says, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29, NASB). From this passage we might conclude that our ultimate goal, when it comes to the power of the spoken word, is to edify. To edify means to build up and/or move toward the highest possible good. A mistake that is often made is to assume that edifying words are always and only positive words. However, building up and moving toward the highest good is not accomplished with positive words alone. In fact, in a fallen world that has been greatly impacted by sin, breaking up the fallow ground that has resulted from our departure from God’s design requires a great amount of words that will not fit into the category of positive words.

If the above statement is true, why does Paul say “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth?” Unwholesome words are words that tear down or destroy as an end, in and of itself. I am not suggesting that we become negative as opposed to positive. I am suggesting that we know what it means to edify which involves both negative and positive words balanced in the right place and right proportion to accomplish this challenging goal.

Timothy remained in Ephesus to prevent certain men from teaching certain unedifying things (Ep.1:3). Paul wrote to instruct Timothy in this pastoral responsibility. Notice the speech oriented words in the following passages as we consider what is involved in real edification. "…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2, NASB).

The first command given is to “preach” the word. To preach is to proclaim or herald before and audience. The following words are descriptive of preaching. As we work through this list, it is important to emphasize that the goal of preaching in this manner is ultimately to edify, move people away from their current departure from moral reality and from displaying God’s character toward honoring God’s design for all of life.

Preaching involves reproof. To “reprove” means to convict or convince (generally with a suggestion of shame of the person convicted), refute, expose, reprehend severely, chide and/or admonish. This is not generally place under the category of “positive” words. As a side note, I have often heard individuals (many of whom I greatly respect) say that only the Holy Spirit can convict people. Here, Paul uses the same word found in John 16:8, to command Timothy to reprove (convict people of their departures).

Next, he says to rebuke. This is an interesting word which has to do with placing value or honor on someone. A rebuke involves pointing out where we have departed from our real value or honor as those created in the image of God.

He then uses the word “exhort.” This means to encourage people to recapture their real value and honor from which they have departed. It is important to emphasize that this is, in great measure based upon the recognition that we have departed from God’s intentions for us and that redemption/reconciliation/salvation refers to the process of returning to God’s original design for man. Consequently, reproof, rebuke and exhortation are very important to this process. In a commentary on this passage, Thomas C. Oden states, “Good counsel involves simultaneously convincing the intellect, rebuking the disordered passions, and encouraging the will. Each phase of counsel needs the other. An ungentle rebuke may hurt too much to hear. A rebuke that lacks convincing evidence is implausible. An encouragement that lacks realism will not help.”

Finally, Paul uses the term “instruction.” Instruction involves a detailed explanation about how something is designed to fit together or to work. Having convinced someone that their (our, in the corporate areas of life) current approach is contrary to God’s design, they need to be informed and instructed about the proper approach. This, again, is intended to edify, build up.

I close with the following reference and brief commentary: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB).

To recognize someone’s highest good and therefore verbally encourage edification requires that we understand God’s design for human life as revealed in Scripture. We must be cautious of simply instructing people to line up with our own personal preference or opinion. If people are departing from God’s design for individual character and responsibility or relational spheres such as family, church, etc. we are to call them back by teaching, reproving, correcting and training. This takes patience and wisdom. The trend to simply provide people with “self-affirmation” without addressing the issue of departure will not edify. Reproof and rebuke without instruction and patience will not edify. Resistance toward this process will not edify.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” (Proverbs 12:15, NASB)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

DO YOU HATE CHRISTIANS?

I have observed that a segment of the Christian community has taken up the practice of rejecting the term Christian, criticizing Christians / Christianity and attempting to distance themselves from that which is associated with the terms Christian or Christianity. In part, I understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. It has been the case that those calling themselves Christians (maybe they are, maybe they aren’t) have, at times, acted inconsistent with the character of which the term represents. This can result in creating a bad name for Christians / Christianity. This can actually be the case with any group identified by a particular term. In the case of some groups, acting consistent with what they believe should give them a bad name. This is not so with Christianity. However, this being the case, I think it’s important to realize that we face two basic options. One is to trash the name and the other is to recapture a proper representation of the name. I would suggest that the second of the two is the most reasonable and courageous option, promoting the best long-term results. Having said this, I qualify the previous statement by clarifying that in certain cultures (possibly an Islamic culture for example) missionary efforts might be enhanced by avoiding an insistence on the usage of such a term. This, however, is quite different from the, somewhat, antagonistic efforts to ridicule instead of edify. A further clarification is the recognition that there are surely times to criticize if we are aiming at edification. This brings me back to the second option referred to above. When Christians act inconsistent with Biblical Christianity (a real problem), they should be called to account. They should be confronted and corrected. This is Biblical. Second Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. James 5:19-20 reads, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” My concern is not over the term in question, my concern is that discarding the term does nothing to correct the departure. In fact, by failing to confront the departure we indicate that Christians act in this despicable way and therefore, “Don’t refer to me as a Christian, I’m just a lover of Jesus.” It all sounds so wonderful but it is all so wrong. As we attempt to identify, support and promote Biblical Christianity (not just in doctrine but in practice) we will face our challenges, we will have our clashes. Consider, “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Ti.4:2-5). Our task is to do the hard, sometimes unpleasant, work of correcting / renewing the mind and encouraging / urging Christians to live lives worthy of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ep.4:1, Phil.1:27, Col.1:10 & 1 Thes.2:12).